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Are Arabs United or Divided?

posted on: May 11, 2021

Are Arabs United or Divided?

By: Yaseen Rashed/Arab America Contributing Writer              The Arab identity has been in flux for the past century ranging from unity to complete division. The notion of one unitary “Arab identity” has been tested and throughout its course, it has held strong and fell apart all at the same time. This leads us to question what exactly is an Arab identity, who does it include and exclude, as well as what’re the connotations behind this collective identity. These answers could be drawn almost directly from the colonial period and its manifestations have continued to influence what the Arab identity means today.

In the earlier half of the 20th century, the Arab world saw a long period of colonization by European powers. The main two colonizers were the British and the French, both of which heavily influenced the realm of social life in their respective colonies. The British were notorious for using indirect rule, thus establishing a system of chieftaincy and ruling through that hierarchy.

When there wasn’t an existing system of hierarchy, the British simply picked a group to favor and gave the rule and control over the colony. Because many of these colonies did not already have a clear hierarchical system in place, the British favored certain groups over others. This gave the exclusive group access to money, land, and power. Perhaps it was this very action that first began the division among the Arab identity.

Suddenly, there has been an established system with clear winners and losers and many retreated to having their own culturally distinct identity to establish where they stood in the colonial experience. The French, however, had a different system of governance, where they relied on a direct rule to control their colonies. This assured their notoriously strict control of their colonies. In avoiding any sentiments of revolt the french effectively segregated their colonies to having each religious and ethnic identity divided and confined to one certain area. This has been very prominent in diverse countries like Syria where there Duruz, Alawis, Sunnis, and Shias were all segregated to their areas within the country. This diminished any sense of a united Arab identity until these colonies’ independence in the mid 20th century. 

Around the 50s and 60s, the notion of “pan-Arabism” grew tremendously. With leaders rising in all portions of the Arab Arab world calling for a unitary Arab identity. Perhaps the most prominent pan Arabist was Gamal Abdul Nasser who used political situations like the conflict in Palestine to effectively rally the Arab public behind the cause of Arab nationalism.

Other leaders began arising and attesting to the same notions as Gaddafi, Saddam, and Al-Asad which encompassed a geographical diversity that effectively rallied millions behind the cause. This created a period where many of these leaders gained a lot of power mainly sourced from the public’s desire for a greater secular Arab identity. However, because of their newfound power, the majority of these leaders ended up claiming dictatorial rules in their countries which only divided the Arab culture as these regimes honed in their strict governance. 

For a while, after the pan Arabism wave, there’s been almost a disappointment and hopelessness in a united Arab identity as ethnic and religious tensions only accelerated the divide between Arabs. This was mainly seen through Lebanon’s long bloody civil war due to the ethnic tensions.

However, in 2010 the Arab world witnessed a series of revolutions that gave rise to a new idea of Arab unity. The Arab spring gave birth to a new generation yearning for unity against the systematic oppression of their country’s regime. The notion of Arab nationalism was seen again in the slogans protesters came up with.

Many of these revolutions happened simultaneously which gave this sense of unity many of the younger generations have never felt before. Paired with the idea of newfound political and social change there seems to be a new horizon for unified Arab identity, one that’s inclusive of all ethnicities and religions. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that there is not one definitive concept of Arab identity, rather it’s more individualistic and is comprised of personal experiences and affiliations that collectively contribute to a greater Arab identity. 

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Are Arabs United or Divided?
The Arab identity has been in flux for the past century ranging from unity to complete division. The notion of one unitary “Arab identity” has been tested and throughout its course, it has held strong and fell apart all at the same time. This leads us to question what exactly is an Arab identity, who does it include and exclude, as well as what’re the connotations behind this collective identity